Dr. Ann Kimball, 35, is an international health specialist for Columbia University's Center for Population and Family Health. She is married to State Department medical officer Dr. Peter West, and mother of Lindsey, 2 1/2, and Kimberly, 2 months. Kimball and West were to leave this week for a new assignment in Dakar, Senegal.
I got into public health through the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, where I went after my internship at the University of Washington.
I spent two years there at the CDC , and that really got me excited about preventive medicine and public health.
I went back to the University of Washington and did another year of internal medicine and decided that I really did want to go into preventive medicine instead. So I did my MPH Master's of Public Health there and then we left for the Ivory Coast for a year and a half. That was in 1981.
Most of what we were working on was the expanded program with immunizations. The program covered 20 countries in West Africa, so we had an awful lot of territory.
Peter applied and was accepted in the State Department toward the end of our tour there. We also found that we were expecting Lindsey, and so I resigned from my position and Peter and I went to Yemen, and that's how we wound up there for two years.
I worked for a short time as a consultant to an oil company in Yemen. Once we had to evacuate a man by helicopter, which was this very dramatic experience. We landed in the middle of the desert, and picked up this fellow . . . He had had a heart attack and was about six hours' drive from the capital, but couldn't be transported that way, he was not stable enough, so a Yemeni military helicopter took us there. Then we flew up to another hospital in the north of the country. It's a very isolated area, one of the roughest with very independent sheiks and armed hill tribesmen. As we passed over the surrounding villages, people started running toward the hospital because they had never seen a helicopter before. As we were coming down, there were maybe 2,000 people charging the helicopter, but they did manage to stay clear of the blades.
Then I began working with the Ministry of Health in Yemen with the maternal and child health division. When I was doing a survey in the desert among the Bedouins, I came across a very malnourished child and I remember thinking, "Now where's my helicopter?"
In Senegal, I will be working as a regional adviser doing operations research in family health and family planning. The biggest negative of living overseas is being so far from our families. And you have to enjoy being self-motivated and working fairly independently. But most of the negatives are really just completely compensated by the positives if you like this kind of work. I think that I am very fortunate because I am able to do what I want to do in a very immediate sense and feel a lot of gratification with the little bits of progress that we make along the way.
I think it helps a great deal being married to another physician. We don't feel as isolated. We can always discuss cases with one another and we go through articles together that come out in the literature and share information. So we have a kind of built-in colleague.